Our politicians take the cake, but ignore the warnings


The level of inequality in this country is so great that people will kill for jobs. One of the stories that is definitely not under-reported, but certainly under-read, is the culling of sitting councillors. Many South Africans tend to write it off as a kind of political contestation, the settling of points of political principle that can’t be done in the council chamber.

Often, it’s far more prosaic than that. A person who becomes a councillor immediately escapes the clutches of poverty for the next five years, with a decent salary, a laptop and a cellphone. There’s also the prospect of growth; organically up the greasy pole to the executive mayor’s chain and, from there, access to the Aladdin’s cave of municipal tenders.

It’s even better in the national government – if you get elevated to Cabinet: luxurious, fully furnished accommodation in Cape Town and Pretoria, free flights for you and your spouse on SAA (which is perhaps why there’s such a determination to keep it in the air), the obligatory laptop, tablet and phone – all paid for, plus (although it’s become trickier because the public’s attention is that much keener) the tenders that are far bigger.

You might have thought that all this, including having a personal staff, both domestic and office, that would be the envy of any SME, fully paid for by the taxpayers, plus two official cars and drivers and bodyguards would be enough, but no. Not only do our ministers never get load shed in any sense of the word – they don’t pay for the water and lights they use.

Far from making a token payment to show that they haven’t lost touch entirely with the common voter from their ivory towers, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele went on radio on Wednesday to defend it.

He feels that the taxpayers should foot the bill for their water and lights because ministers are inconvenienced by the nature of their jobs – having to be based in Pretoria and Cape Town, even if their hometowns are somewhere else. That argument might hold water were it not for all the other perks – to say nothing of the R2.5-million in salary they get a year.

It’s in stark contrast to the millions of South Africans surviving on social grants; the legion of unemployed eking out their R350 Sassa social relief of distress grant every month. They might fancy a minister’s inconvenience.

We are living in a country where unemployment is growing, the lights can’t be guaranteed to stay on for any length of time and those who do have work and pay tax are looking at emigrating. We would hope that those would be the things that would seize the minds of our ministers. But they don’t even have to worry about crime because they’ve effectively got their own special police force with their own blue lights.

In 1789, French Queen Marie Antoinette was told the peasants were starving. “Let them eat cake,” she is reputed to have said.

Four years later, she lost her head, literally, by guillotine. Maybe that’s why our ministers need their own cops.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 15 October 2022.